Alphabet: My History: Aziz (A)
My friend Eve asked me if I wanted to come with her to visit her friend, Aziz. She'd mentioned him so many times I already felt like I knew him, so I said yes. We rode two buses to get to his place: a tiny house in Kensal Rise. It was only a block away from where the tornado had struck just a couple of weeks prior - that made national headlines and led to several phone calls from Canada asking if we were okay.
We sat on the top of the bus because the bottom was mostly full. I liked riding at the top anyway, because you could see so much more - it was like getting a free sightseeing tour without looking like a tourist. As we passed the block that had been damaged, I noticed red lights blinking and blockades at the top of the street. Just past them, you could see debris on the road, and people still working on the clean-up.
On the short walk between the bus stop and his house, we passed a few run-down shops and an off-license (that became our stopping place for a bottle of wine or two). One of these was a flower and plant store who's owner somehow trusted people enough to leave large planters full of greenery and blooms outside even when he closed up for the night. An old black lab sat outside the stores, tied to a bench and wagging his tail as we passed by. The neighbourhood was quiet and had the beginnings of that air of neglect that you see in some downtown or urban places: overgrown lawns, unkept gardens, a few broken down bikes and cars in sagging driveways. I think of the neighbourhood I grew up in and how far away it is from there and feel light years away from home. Aziz's house was on a cozy side street where the houses basically sat shoulder to shoulder - no spaces in between, with tiny driveways and front yards.
He greeted us with a smile, hugs for Eve, and a kiss on each cheek for me. I immediately liked him: big, friendly smile, and a house that felt so comfortable it was hard to believe I'd never been there before. His house was full of warmth and colour, delicious scents of Moroccan tobacco and stews, opening up to a huge back yard lined with pretty trees and shrubs.
Aziz used to have cancer. Now he's got a hole in his throat, and has learned to speak through it. He used to be a musician, but can't perform anymore. He smiled and was sweet and friendly, but you could see the despair in his eyes when he listened to music. Somebody painted a picture of him playing his flute with the sun beaming behind him. It's hanging on the living room wall near pictures of his little girl smiling and growing up. He was born in Casablanca, which I always thought was very exotic.
I loved visiting him. Eve and I (and sometimes Jeremy) would take the bus to his little house for incredible dinners and listen to music and talk while he smoked his pipe (even after the cancer, he couldn't quit completely). His best friend was a professional chef who would cook huge dinners that you could smell all the way down the street in the summer and were plated like they came out of a restaurant.
Sometimes when we'd visit, he would eat very little, sticking to sips of wine while we went for seconds. I think he was a bit self-conscious about the hole in his throat sometimes, which is sad because we never noticed it at all. We were too busy enjoying his company...
After one visit, Eve mentioned that he didn't look well - his colour wasn't good and he didn't seem his usual jovial self. Even when he said goodbye; grasping our hands and kissing our cheeks with a smile - something seemed just... off. Then as quickly as the trouble appeared, he bounced back and was the picture of health during the next visit. Still, the ghost of his cancer always hovered in the background to remind us of how quickly the world had come to losing him.
The last time I saw him, he was getting ready for a month-long visit to his home country and I was only a few weeks away from moving back to Canada. I knew I probably wouldn't ever see him again, so I watched him a lot during our visit, hoping to remember the happiness coming off of him in waves as he told stories about his home.
I'll never hear an African flute again without thinking of Aziz.